Now that’s the Spirit of Giving


Christmas is traditionally the season of giving, but at the age of twenty-two I was more into receiving. That is until the day a girlfriend of mine asked me to play Santa Claus for her brother, Glenn. Gayle told me that he was “beginning to ask questions” about the existence of Santa Claus and she and her family wanted just one more Christmas that Glenn was a “believer.”

“Would you mind dressing up as Santa Claus and convince him otherwise?” she asked me.

I didn’t think it was such a great idea. I was no actor. I was thin as a rail at six-feet-one-inch and 170 pounds, and I had realized by age seven that Santa did not exist. Hey, deal with reality, kid.

But when you are only five weeks into dating someone and you want to keep it going, you tend to bend your principles.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “But I need some girth.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Gayle said. “We’ve got a great costume and plenty of padding, and the beard is guaranteed to stick if he tries to yank it off.”

Later that night Gayle sneaked the costume to my car and I returned the next day – Christmas Eve – with every intention of putting on a grand performance.

Just after 6 p.m. I pulled up to her house but several cars were parked in front, so I drove a hundred feet or so past her house, parked and got out.

As I cut across a neighbor’s property, owned by the Mays, I saw their family of four – one dad, a mom, two sons, and two grandparents – seated at table in their dining room celebrating Chanukah. That’s when I got a magical idea: Why not sneak up alongside the dining room window and let the boys get a glimpse of Santa during a Jewish celebration. How often has that happened?

As they ate, they faced the window and I figured only they would see me. I was correct. When one kid looked up from his plate I gave him a quick wave and tugged on my bushy white beard. His eyes widened and he nudged his brother. I waved to him too and when I did both boys yelled, “SANTA.” The parents seemed puzzled, but they were not looking in my direction so I ducked out of sight and scampered through the yards to Gayle’s house. There I put on a first-rate act for her brother and I was told that Glenn remained a “believer” for one more year.

It felt good having done Gayle and her family a big favor, but I always wondered about the two Jewish boys I had spoofed. Years later my sister was going out with Gayle’s brother, Billy, and though Gayle and I no longer saw each other, I’d go over from time to time to see the family.

One December afternoon I pulled up to Gayle’s house and I saw the two brothers tossing a football on their front lawn and I decided to make conversation. They were about eight and nine at the time and I told them that they had pretty good throwing arms.

“But you need a better football,” I said. “This one’s pretty ratty and it’s low on air.” Then I added the setup line: “Make sure you tell Santa to bring you a new NFL football.”

“We’re Jewish,” the older boy said.

“Oh, then I guess you don’t believe in Santa?”

“We do, we do,” he replied. “We saw him a few years ago right over there.”

He pointed to the dining room window.

I was touched that they had remembered that night long ago, so a couple of weeks later I had a brand-new football gift wrapped and sent to their house a few days before Christmas. It was signed, “Santa.”

I never saw the boys after that. They have long grown up. But I’m sure somewhere there are two Jewish men in their fifties who still believe in Santa, no matter what the naysayers might have told them.

Our Last Lecture


As we near spring it is time for our annual writing contest at our high school. This is when students step up and show off the skills they have acquired during the school year.

The assignment is simple: What would you say to your classmates, family, and friends if you knew you were going to die soon?

Sound familiar? It is the premise of “The Last Lecture” popularized by Randy Pausch, Ph.D., ten years ago. Pausch, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was asked if he would address the student body and fellow professors on the aforementioned topic. His deadline was in a year’s time. No problem, he said.

As the date drew near, Pausch learned that he had contracted pancreatic cancer and had little time to live. He could have pulled out of the assignment, but instead he saw it as a chance to help others. He delivered the lecture and it became an internet sensation. Soon his talk had more than ten million hits and became a best-selling book.

It is a moving lecture, as were the subsequent interviews he gave to television and radio hosts about facing death, its ramifications, and what he would miss most about life.

But how would high school students react to the same assignment? I found out in 2009, a year after Pausch died.

At first, hearing of the assignment students were baffled. “We’re going to write about death? they’d say. “Why?”

I told them what Socrates said 2,000 years ago: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” If we don’t stop every so often and assess the way we are conducting our lives and make improvements, we are doomed to a dull, fruitless existence.

The students saw the point and spent several days dreaming up penetrating questions to ask themselves.

We’ve held this contest every year since Pausch died, and trophies are awarded by me to the top two in each of my five classes. For years I’ve had a local shop design a trophy that resembles the Hollywood Oscar. It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and the students love the fact that it is personalized. It features their names, the titles of their talks, and the dates they were presented.

When I broach the idea of the writing contest every September, I get the usual responses.

“I’m not doing this,” one kid says.

“Do we have to present in front of the class?” another asks.

By the time we write and rewrite hundreds of pages of essays throughout the year and the students see their improvement, they eventually inquire about the contest date.

But there was something different about this year. While I always model assignments for my students, I don’t for “The Last Lecture.” I figure by then everyone ought to be able to jump right into it and produce. However, a couple of students asked me if I would write one, so they’d have a better feel for the assignment.

I did not commit at first, but the next morning about a half hour before class I decided to punch out a talk. It took twenty minutes and while I know it would have been better had I given it hours of my time over a period of days, I knew I could write something that would help these particular students. So here goes:

Doctors told me yesterday that I have contracted a rare disease that is expected to cut down my life within nine months. And though I don’t want to get into the particulars at this time, I do want to tell all of you how much I have enjoyed teaching you this year and that you have meant so much to me.

You always came to class on time prepared to learn, and whether you realized it or not you taught me a lot as well. I can tell you right now that you will be successes in life, but more importantly you are just good young people.

I am going to miss so much about the life I’ve been blessed with all these years and I’d like to tell you a bit about me and what I’ll miss most.

As soon as I got the medical news I began missing my wife, Kathy, and our sons, Kieran and Patrick, and, of course, our dog, Curtis. All of whom I love.

My wife and I met 35 years ago. I knew she was the one for me the moment I first saw her walk through the door that led to the editorial department of The Daily Journal in Elizabeth, N.J. I wasted little time asking her out and even less time proposing marriage ten weeks later. She said YES – three years later.

We married in 1986 and eventually our sons were born. During the following years Kathy and I spent hours with them in all aspects of their lives: Little League, school, and later attending their live music shows right into their twenties. I am so grateful that I have been able to spend so much time with my family. Not every dad and husband is as lucky.

Twenty-five years of my life was also spent as a sportswriter. While I liked that career, it was no legacy. A legacy is when you leave behind something important for others.

So I took up teaching. I’ve been at it for 18 years now.

As I’ve said, I liked sports writing, but I love teaching.

At first, friends and family thought I was crazy entering the world of education. Not much money, they reminded me.

“And kids today are crazy,” they added.

But I saw teaching as a “calling.” And this powerful pull deep within my gut insisted that I had to help others.

Along the way, I received good advice from the man who hired me at Elizabeth High School in 2001. His name is Richard Long. “Every time you step into a classroom try to be the best teacher a student ever had,” he advised.

Now, I may not clear that particular bar in some students’ opinions, but I try. Who knows? Perhaps one day someone might recall me as a “good” teacher or at least “okay.” That’s actually high praise coming from a teenager.

What students have taught me over the years is that you cannot tell them what to do; you need to convince them of taking certain actions.

Case in point: Years ago I spent 90 minutes trying to talk a male student of mine out of having a certain female student beaten up after school. He had gang affiliations and his threat was legitimate. So we talked and talked – and talked.

Eventually the male student said, “I’ll call it off mister if you give me an ‘A’ for the marking period.”

That wasn’t going to fly, I told him. So we kept talking. I think he was impressed that I was so persistent, and in the end he called off his boys. The girl was never bothered again.

Yes, teaching has been a deeply moving experience. During discussions I’ve had with students over the years most often I only listen. Sometimes a young person just needs to be heard.

From those listening sessions, I have learned that many teenagers’ problems are the result of young people not having a father figure in their lives.

Now, if you become a dad or a mom, love your son or daughter, involve yourself in your child’s life, always be a good influence, and be patient.

So here I stand before you at 65 years of age. I am not financially wealthy, but I am wealthy in experience – and that has given me a rich life.

A life I will dearly miss.

Comedy’s B(j)orn Loser


Some of my friends wondered where I was during the last week of June and now I’m here to explain.

My wife, Kathy, and I wanted to do something very different this year, so a day after school closed we boarded a flight bound for Iceland with the intention of checking out the burgeoning comedy scene in Reykjavik.

We arrived 5 ½ hours later, booked a room, got some sleep, then went off to find a night club that advertised, “The funniest comedians just south of the Arctic Circle.” We figured it was a can’t-miss getaway for three days. After all, the city had elected a standup comic named John Gnarr as its mayor in 2010. So off we went for an evening of laughs at the Goldengang Comedy Club.

Icelandic comedians have good intentions, but they do not have well-thought out routines. There is always a kernel of humor in their jokes, of course, but they need to work on their setups to those jokes.

The “best” comedian of the evening, Bjorn Hanssen, walked out to rousing cheers and then quieted the audience by saying, “You wouldn’t tip a waiter before dinner, would you?”

The audience chuckled.

Then, out of nowhere, he admitted that he doesn’t like to read much and he attributed it to the fact that current book titles don’t intrigue him. If they did, he said, he might take up reading. He then suggested titles that he believed would capture his attention: Twenty Reasons Why You Must Never Give Yourself a Vasectomy, Let’s Give Satan a Second Chance, and Suicide: What’s All the Fuss About? The last one got big laughs because suicide is rampant in Iceland. Hanssen mentioned that 10.4 people out of 100,000 Icelanders commit suicide every year. To put it in perspective, he stated that South Korea has the highest rate (24.7) per 100,000. “But we’re catching up,” Hanssen added gleefully.

Okay, not bad, but then he meandered for a while muttering about how he got caught in traffic that afternoon, and how a piece of meat he had ordered for lunch had a price tag underneath it. Again, the audience was going nuts, but my wife and I looked at each other like we hadn’t received the memo that his material was funny.

Then, out of nowhere, he shouted, “CANCER, BRING IT ON.”

Everyone howled.

Bjorn then announced that he was going to tell a joke for any Americans who might be in the audience. “The nearest lake to Three-Mile Island has the best nuclear fishin’ ” (PAUSE) My favorite Rock ‘n’ Roll song is by Steppenwolf. You know, “Bjorn to be Wild.”

The audience moaned at that one.

But he kept going.

“Have you ever seen an Eskimo beauty contestant?”

“Do midgets have short life spans?”

“And who retrieves the discuss after the athlete tosses it?”

That, believe it or not, was his big finish. The place went crazy. Afterward, I asked the bartender if there were any big-name comedians in Iceland.

“You just saw him,” he said.

“My wife and I would like two more drinks,” I said. “And make them doubles.”

How to Dump Trump


There stood Donald J. Trump: towering, seething, intimidating, and above all, sounding ugly at the Republican National Convention. The real-estate magnate from New York City had fulfilled every TV producer’s dream with his outrageous behavior that flew in the face of political decorum.

That’s okay, the Donald would tell us, he doesn’t have time for political correctness.

But such a stance would be dangerous in today’s world. Imagine a President Trump firing a volley of insults at leaders worldwide who might not see things his way.

“Hey, towel head, you thirsty?” he might shout at some Mideast leader who he disagrees with. “Have a glass of sand.”

Eventually when he runs out of his own one-liners he will turn to Sickipedia.

“Hey, Putin, I heard you had an amicable divorce. It must have been. Your wife is still alive.”

To President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China: “If I were a Chinese billionaire they’d call me Cha-Ching.”

We’d probably have every enemy at our doorstep within a week of Trump taking the oath of office.

Yes, certainly, the Donald has touched a nerve among the electorate, but clearly he is not the man to run our country. He’s just an arrogant loudmouth.

If Hillary Clinton wishes to take him down all she has to do is something she should have done a long time ago: Tell the electorate to turn on the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump and see why, according to comedian Seth MacFarland, Trump is the second worst tragedy to hit New York City.

MacFarland, who hosted the roast, was in no mood to take prisoners, especially billionaire Trump.

“You’re a grown man and you’ve got hair like Dennis the Menace. What’s going on here?” MacFarland said. “Did you fall head first into a cotton candy machine? What happened? … And Donald, as long as I have you here, it’s pronounced huge not yuge. And here’s another one. It’s pronounced I am delusional, not I am am running for president.”

Say this for Trump, he’s got a sense of humor. But it wouldn’t be long before things went too far as the parade of insult comics marched to the podium and trashed not only Trump but his family members too.

So bring on the insults.

Snoop Dogg: “The Donald says he wants to move into the White House. Why not? It wouldn’t be the first time you pushed a black family out of their home.”

Lisa Lampanelli: “You’ve always gotten beautiful women. You’ve ruined more models’ lives than bulimia … But that’s all behind him now. Donald is very happy with his lovely wife, Insert Name Here.”

Trump thought that joke was a hoot. And it was. But who would allow someone to attack his wife in public? Lampanelli’s crude pokes at Mrs. Trump soon became scatological and a close-up shot of Mrs. Trump revealed a beleaguered woman just trying to to get through the moment as hundreds of audience members laughed at her. Clearly, we have become a nation of barbarians being entertained by vulgarians.

Roastmaster General Jeff Ross next stepped to the podium and asked Trump if he was having a good time. Trump acknowledged that he was and Ross cracked, “Then tell your face.”

Turning to the audience, Ross announced that he and the Donald had a lot in common. “We both live in New York, we both play golf, we both fantasize about his daughter … ” Ivanka Trump could only shake her head from side to side. What kind of father would have his daughter endure these jokes?

Eventually Ross wrapped up his routine by saying that he looked forward to Trump running for president because “I can’t wait for the assassina –, I mean the inauguration.”

Trump ended the program reveling once more in his arrogance just in case we hadn’t detected it. “What is the difference between a wet raccoon and Donald J. Trump’s hair?” he began. “A wet raccoon doesn’t have seven billion f—— dollars in the bank.” Then he leaned back and bathed in his sycophants’ applause.

To be sure, Donald Trump has hit a nerve regarding several hot-button campaign issues, including Obamacare and illegal immigration, but this nativist is not the man we need sitting in the White House in 2017.

The world is filled with arrogant bullies right now and this arrogant bully apparently has no solutions to the problems that beset America. Push him on solutions and he only becomes the loud, brutish name caller he has always been.

It ought to be interesting when he tangles with Hillary Clinton during their first debate. She will demand that he produce answers to solve our nation’s problems. If he doesn’t, she’ll fire off a litany of her own. That is, if he does not shout her down.

Interesting debates await.



Wild Drug Stories that would have made Dr. Timothy Leary Really Leery


If you ever become a teacher get ready for one question I guarantee you’ll be asked: “Have you ever done drugs?”

“No,” I always reply.

“Aw, c’mon, Mister. You must’ve done weed at least.”


Most students quietly size me up to determine if I’m telling the truth. And when they realize that I am, they ask why I didn’t do drugs.

I tell them I have never in my life followed the crowd about anything that I didn’t agree with. Now, I didn’t avoid drugs years ago because my parents told me not to. I certainly disobeyed them on more than one occasion.

A student then wonders if, perhaps, I didn’t use drugs because they were against the law.

That wasn’t my reason either. After all, I could have bought any drug from my friends and chances were pretty good that I would not have been nabbed by authorities.

At issue was health.

What might have happened if I had indulged in drugs? Would I have liked them? And, if so, would I have gone too far? I also thought about my children years down the line. I wanted to be able to look them in the eyes one day and say I did not do drugs when they inevitably would ask me about the topic.

But a childhood friend hit upon yet another reason I had to consider.

“You didn’t do drugs because you just wanted to drive the rest of us nuts,” he said.

I gave his suggestion some thought and had to admit that was indeed part of my decision-making process.

He laughed and promised, “The day you turn 70, I’m going to get a pound of pot and roll up a massive joint with the Sunday New York Times, and force you to smoke it.”

March 26, 2022 is not that far away.

As the years passed my decision — no matter why I made it — seemed to be the correct one for me. Friends who went off to college stepped up their drug usage, particularly LSD. An acquaintance at the time told me that someone had secretly slipped him a tab of acid shortly before he drove down Route 1 to pick up his girlfriend at Newark Airport.

On the way, the drug began to take effect. He swore that as he looked into his rearview mirror he saw a giant Dunkin’ Donut pursuing him at top speed.

“And it had a bite taken out of it,” he recalled.

His experience got stranger.

Once inside the airport he was gazing out the panoramic glass windows to get a clear view of his girlfriend’s incoming flight. That’s when he saw a 707 explode in flames and topple onto the runaway.

“That’s my girlfriend’s plane,” he shouted hysterically as he pounded the glass.

Security rushed in and convinced him that no such accident had occurred. They told him that he was imagining it.

One time I was visiting George Washington University and staying with a psychology major who fancied LSD. He always spoke about the wonders of the drug. He said that the national drug guru at the time, Timothy Leary, did LSD often. “And he was a Harvard professor,” my friend said, as if that made dropping acid okay.

We fell asleep late that Saturday night, but an hour later my friend was standing at the foot of his bed trying to convince me that a headless sailor was dangling in front of our window and blood was gushing out of his neck. I had all I could do to persuade him that he was seeing things and that he needed to stay away from the window which was six stories above the pavement. When exactly he had ingested LSD that night, I have no idea because I would have stopped him. He probably knew that which is why he did it on the sly.

I really didn’t need anymore convincing about the effects of drugs after that, but then I came across a John Lennon interview. The former Beatle was regaling an interviewer with his countless trips on acid and admitted that he had gone too far because years later he never felt like he had completely come back from those drug excursions. He described the feeling as his soul being just slightly outside his body at all times.

The possibility of my soul being just slightly outside my body every day for the rest of my life — nah, that wasn’t for me.

Points Worth Considering After Graduating High School


Recently high school seniors across America took part in their graduation ceremonies. But if I had the chance to pull them aside, I would have made three points before they moved on with their lives.

POINT ONE: If you want to experience a wonderful life start right now and look out for others. Believe it or not, it’s not all about you; it’s about the other guy. And while some of you are already on that path, a good deal of you need to consider this suggestion. So how can you begin?

Start small:

Hold a door for someone, anyone.

Say hello to a stranger.

Help anyone in need.


Be kind.

Do what your parents and guardians ask without an argument.

Wake up every morning and say to yourself, “Who can I help today?”

Then act.


Become curious about life. Find areas of interest and learn more about them. Not only will you become more knowledgeable, you will become richer in spirit because you will have something to share in discussion with others.

Don’t read just to bolster your test scores, read to bolster your life. After all, no matter what line of work you eventually pursue you will be dealing with people of all ages, various levels of education and experience. You want to be part of that conversation rather than wishing for that conversation to be over because you have no clue what others are talking about.

So subscribe to a reputable newspaper, read books, and look up words you don’t know. Reading will pay dividends in the future.

POINT THREE: Work hard and do your best.

Work is a four-letter word to some of you, but you might want to consider the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

How many of you are satisfied with just getting by? That’s okay for now. You are still maturing. But the day will come when you realize what your purpose is in life and you will grab it. Only then will you be inspired to give your best effort. You will show up to work on time, all the time. You will stay after hours to smooth out the edges of a project. And you will go home feeling you truly accomplished something that day.

But would it hurt to start doing your best in everything now? Think about it.

And so Class of 2015, find what you would love to do in life and then have a torrid love affair with it for the rest of your days.